Construction job losses could reach half a million

As many as half a million jobs could be lost to the industry by the end of this year, according to the chairman of the Construction Products Association.

In his speech to the Association’s annual Autumn Lunch, Adrian Barden said: ” Even the pessimists didn’t anticipate the speed and scale of the downturn that the construction industry has experienced over the last 12 months.

“For some product manufacturers, output in 2008 was down almost 50% and by the end of last year the construction products industry had shed over 60,000 jobs in just 18 months – That is ten times more than car manufacturers. Another 9000 people have left the industry already this year and over 12,000 are on short time working, add the job losses from contracting, housebuilding and general builders, the total some have quoted is a figure closer to 500,000 job losses.”

While there may be talk of emerging ‘green shoots of recovery’, Barden believes that, for the construction industry, the worst is far from over. “By anyone’s definition, there is a crisis situation in construction. What frustrates me is that the government doesn’t seem to take the construction industry anything like as seriously as it does the car industry, aerospace, or telecommunications, even though construction has a share of the economy greater than these three industries added together.

“Ministers say they want to work closely with different industries so together we can tackle the problems thrown up by the recession. They want to hear our ideas and engage in a meaningful dialogue. But believe me, engaging in that dialogue is not easy with too many important meetings being cancelled at the last minute, at a time when our industry needs Government understanding and action, more than ever.

“And yet all the time we hear that construction is key to delivering this country out of recession.

But without an effective dialogue it is no wonder that too many of the government’s announcements seem to be born, more out of political rhetoric, than carefully developed programmes for delivery.”

What is certain, Barden said, is that the future environment in which this industry will operate, will be very different from the one we enjoyed in the early part of this decade, and for many years before that.

“First, as last week’s Budget figures confirmed, Government spending will have to be cut back significantly after the next Election – whichever party is elected. We need to be thinking now about ways that we can work with the public sector to continue to improve the built environment and provide the schools… hospitals…social housing and transport infrastructure, that will still be desperately needed, against a tight public spending regime that will be with us for some considerable time.

“Second, we are going to need a different housing model to deliver the housing needs of this country. A model that responds to the shortcomings of the past.. and recognises that mortgage finance is unlikely to be as freely available. This will need to focus on increasing the supply of new homes, and achieving a different balance between.. owner occupation…social housing..and private rented.

“And finally, environmental issues, and particularly those relating to carbon reduction, will influence everything we do. It will influence the materials and products that are used in construction, the way these are manufactured and supplied, well as how the buildings and structures are constructed.”

He added that the industry has much to be proud of and look forward to. “We have world class product manufacturers and suppliers operating in this country. The Olympics, so far, is an enormously successful project. And however difficult things may seem at the moment, we know that society will always need the outputs of the construction industry – the houses, the schools, the offices, and the transport links.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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